*Source: DTN News / Int'l Media
(NSI News Source Info) ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - October 26, 2009: Pakistan may be claiming early successes but Taliban guerrillas who confound the military time and again are likely to defy the army's pledge to write them off, outsmarting them in their homeland. Men, who fled a military offensive against Taliban militants in South Waziristan, line up to pick-up relief goods for internally displaced persons (IDPs) at a distribution point in Dera Ismail Khan, located in Pakistan's restive North West Frontier Province October 25, 2009. About 140,000 people have fled the fighting in South Waziristan, according to the U.N. After eight days of painstaking advance, siege and bombing, the military hailed the first major gain of its latest ground offensive -- the capture of Kotkai, the home town of Pakistan Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud. Troops overran Kotkai, in South Waziristan, on two previous occasions only to retreat after signing the kind of peace deals that Western critics have savaged for granting sanctuary to Al-Qaeda-linked militants. Witnesses among the more than 120,000 civilians displaced by the conflict speak of heavy bombing and long-distance artillery, tactics that maximise collateral damage and undercut modern counter-insurgency doctrine. While the army says more than 160 militants and 23 troops have been killed, it is impossible to assess the advance, resistance or casualties -- civilian or otherwise -- because the area is cut off to journalists and aid workers. Washington, which has grown increasingly alarmed at the security situation in nuclear-armed Pakistan, has praised the operation whose progress is likely to feature heavily in a looming visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Regional envoy Richard Holbrooke said the United States was "very impressed with the Pakistani resolve" but cautioned it was too early to assess. "We know where the troops are going; they're in the early phase. But it'll take a while before we know whether the enemy they're fighting has been dispersed or destroyed or some mixture of the two," he told reporters. In an early acknowledgement of difficulties, commanders said the offensive, originally earmarked for six to eight weeks, could drag into the desperately cold winter because of landmines and the forbidding terrain. Security officials say troops are advancing carefully, capturing strategic heights and roads, guarding their rear and protecting their flanks but that the Taliban have yet to mount stiff resistance. One official complained of poor intelligence leaving commanders unclear on Taliban tactics or strength, with assessments ranging from 5,000 to 15,000. "Troops have very little information about the number of militants and their strategy," he told AFP. Out of Pakistan's military strength of 600,000, barely 30,000 troops are deployed in South Waziristan and 150,000 in the entire northwest, the New America Foundation think tank wrote before the latest offensive began. The organisation believes Pakistan needs 370,000 to 430,000 more troops in the tribal belt and northwest to meet the force-to-population ratio of counter-insurgency doctrine and even that does not guarantee success. Rushed into the assault after a spike of attacks embarrassed security forces, the start of ground operations has not silenced the militants. Bombers struck an Islamabad university campus, targeting an airbase and a restaurant. "The Taliban will try to expand the war and keep the army busy in more than one place, but the question is whether they succeed or not," Rahimullah Yusufzai, one of Pakistan's most prominent experts on tribal affairs, told AFP. "They want their allies to attack in North Waziristan. There have already been attacks in Bajaur and Mohmand. They will try to hit back in Swat," he said, referring to the valley where the army fought the Taliban this year. "Taliban are also targeting major cities to create more fear and to put pressure on government," Yusufzai said. Militant networks are sophisticated. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the army's enemy in South Waziristan, is loosely affiliated to Al-Qaeda and linked to sectarian radicals elsewhere along the Afghan border and southern Punjab. With nearly 200 people killed in attacks so far this month alone, schools have been closed and nervous families are steering clear of markets and restaurants. An article on the Foreign Policy website said the militants were likely to attack civilian targets and drag the military into a guerrilla war. "Anyone who has studied guerrilla war will tell you that armies fighting militant organisations go, for lack of a better term, a little crazy. "They don't know where the next attack is coming from, they become suspicious of everything, trust dies and they start acting in stupid and counter-productive ways," it said.